The Same Three Year Gasol Plan in Memphis

Michael Heisley – owner of the Memphis Grizzlies – told a select group of Memphis fans that the Grizzlies are in the midst of a three-year plan.  Yes, in three years (or does this year count so it’s only two years?), Memphis will be a competitive team.

Looking for Wins in Memphis

When we look at today’s Grizzlies, it’s clear this team is not competitive.  And when we look at each player’s Wins Produced – noted in Table One — we can see why this team is struggling.

Table One: The Memphis Grizzlies after 62 games in 2008-09

The “stars” of Memphis – assuming a 16-42 team can have “stars” – are O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay.  These two players average more than 18 points per game.  Since no other player is surpassing twelve points per contest, it’s clear – if we focus on scoring – that Mayo and Gay are this team’s best players. 

When we look at Wins Produced, though, both Mayo and Gay are below average (average WP48 is 0.100). And when we look at the individual stats it’s easy to see why.  Although both Mayo and Gay are very good at taking shots, that’s essentially the limit of their skills.  There is no other aspect of the game where either player has been able to excel. And since they are below average with respect to some stats, the overall level of productivity is below par.  Consequently these two players are only on pace to produce 3.8 wins this season.

The team, though, is on pace to win more than twenty.  So where are these wins coming from?  Again, we look back at Table One.  Memphis has employed three above average players this season.  One of these, Kyle Lowry, is now playing for Houston.  But Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are still in Memphis, and these two players are on pace to produce 14.9 wins this season.  Unfortunately, with Lowry gone, the rest of the roster isn’t much help.

Memphis History

So the picture currently looks quite bleak.  But it doesn’t look as bad as it did in 2001-02.  And the story of how this team rose from the ashes of that campaign gives us insight into the team’s current three year plan.

The 2001-02 season was the first year the Grizzlies played in Memphis.  It was also Pau Gasol’s rookie season.  Looking back at that team, here is the entire list of above average players on that team:

  • Pau Gasol: 13.5 Wins Produced
  • Remainder of roster: 7.7 Wins Produced

Yes, Pau Gasol was the Grizzlies in 2001-02.  The next season, though, the number of above average players (minimum 1,000 minutes played) increased. 

  • Pau Gasol: 9.2 Wins Produced
  • Jason Williams: 7.3 Wins Produced
  • Shane Battier: 7.0 Wins Produced
  • Stromile Swift: 3.6 Wins Produced
  • Earl Watson: 3.4 Wins Produced
  • Remainder of roster: 2.0 Wins Produced

Swift and Watson were only slightly above average and neither became very productive NBA players.  Still, progress was made.  And then in 2003-04 (can anyone say “three-year plan), the Grizzlies became respectable.  Here were the above average players in 2003-04:

  • James Posey: 13.0 Wins Produced
  • Pau Gasol: 7.2 Wins Produced
  • Jason Williams: 7.0 Wins Produced
  • Shane Battier: 6.9 Wins Produced
  • Stromile Swift: 3.4 Wins Produced
  • Remainder of roster: 10.1 Wins Produce

The 2004-05 season demonstrated that 2003-04 was not a fluke.  Again, here are the above average players from that season:

  • Mike Miller: 8.8 Wins Produced
  • Shane Battier: 8.8 Wins Produced
  • Pau Gasol: 7.2 Wins Produced
  • Lorenzen Wright: 5.7 Wins Produced
  • Jason Williams: 5.0 Wins Produced
  • Bonzi Wells: 3.9 Wins Produced
  • James Pozey: 3.5 Wins Produced
  • Remainder of roster: 3.9 Wins Produced

The player common to all these rosters was Pau Gasol.  Once Gasol got help, Memphis became a good team.  Unfortunately, Memphis couldn’t keep it together.  The 2005-06 team was the best in franchise history.  But it only had four above average players.

  • Pau Gasol: 13.9 Wins Produced
  • Mike Miller: 10.8 Wins Produced
  • Shane Battier: 8.8 Wins Produced
  • Eddie Jones: 8.3 Wins Produced
  • Remainder of roster: 9.1 Wins Produed

The 2006-07 season started with Gasol hurt.  Eddie Jones was also not completely healthy.  Furthermore, the Grizzlies traded Battier for Rudy Gay before the season started.   This means the Grizzlies were missing most of what made them good in 2005-06.  And consequently, the 2006-07 season was a disaster.

The New Plan is the Same as the Old Plan           

Since this disaster the team has not recovered.  But it looks like the team has returned to its original plan.  And what is that plan?

Step One: Acquire a Gasol Brother

That was the first step in 2001.  And it’s the same step the team took when it traded Pau Gasol to the Lakers last season for Marc Gasol (and some other players who have not helped yet). Currently Marc Gasol is the most productive player on the Grizzlies.  Although he’s not quite as good as his brother – as Table Two illustrates – he’s pretty close. 

Table Two: Comparing the Gasol Brothers

Table Two compares what Marc is doing this year to two different years for Pau. The 2001-02 season is Pau’s rookie campaign.  Marc is a rookie this year, but he’s also 24 years of age.  So I thought a comparison between what Marc is doing this year and what Pau did at 24 would be good as well.

These comparisons indicate that Marc is a more efficient shooter and is better on the boards.  Pau, though, takes more shots.  And since Pau is also an above average scorer (with respect to efficiency), Pau’s extra field goal attempts results in a higher Win Score (the additional blocked shots and assists also help).

Although Marc is not quite his brother (at least, not yet), he’s making what looked like a very lopsided trade with the Lakers look a whole lot better.

And with him on board, Memphis can now move to the next step.

Step Two: Find other players to help your Gasol brother.

At this point, step two has barely begun.  As noted, the only other above average player on the roster is Mike Conley.  Conley has become an above average player in his second season.  But after him, the rest of the Memphis roster is not helping much. 

There is, though, some hope. Although Mayo is not above average yet, he’s in his rookie season.  So he can get better.  Plus the team has cap room and a collection of draft picks to add.  In sum, it’s possible – if the team adds some productive players with its cap room and/or draft picks (yes, it’s a big if) – that the same three year plan from the early part of the decade can work again.  And if it does, 2010-11 (or is it 2011-12) could once again be happy days in Memphis.

- DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.

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